Serbia has signed a free-trade agreement with the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EES), following veiled warnings from the European Union.
The accord, to be inked during a visit by Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic to Moscow, would replace the existing free-trade deals between Belgrade and Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.
Serbia does not have any such accords with Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, the two other EES members.
The deal provides for ‘instant savings in customs payments’ in trade between Serbia and the bloc’s member states, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s office said in a statement carried by state media.
Serbia’s Trade Ministry has said that the free-trade agreement with the EES will allow about 95.5 percent of Serbian products to be exported to the regional grouping free of customs duties.
Last year, trade between Serbia and the EES states — a market of more than 180 million people — amounted to $3.4 billion.
Although Serbia aspires to join the European Union, it has kept close ties with Russia, which observers say uses the EES to bolster Moscow’s influence in the former Soviet Union and counter the EU and NATO.
Talks on Serbia’s free-trade agreement with the EES have been ongoing since 2016.
Last week, European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said that the EU was ‘closely’ monitoring the negotiations, telling the news website Euractive.com that Serbia ‘is expected to progressively align with the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy.’
Kocijancic noted that the EU remains Serbia’s most important trading partner, with bilateral trade amounting to 63 percent of the Balkan country’s total trade.
‘Trade with Russia is less than 10 percent of Serbia’s total trade. In addition, European investments in Serbia are more than 10 times higher than Russia’s,’ the EU spokeswoman added.
According to a survey conducted by Serbia’s Bureau for Social Research, BIRODI, 45.5 percent of Serbians consider EU membership to be the most acceptable foreign-policy priority, while 17.6 percent think the country should instead join the EEU.
A little over a third of respondents think that Serbia should not join the EU, NATO, or the EES.
Source; Big News Network